Bottle the Skagit River?

by: Posted on: February 10, 2012

By Sandra Spargo, Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin, The Alliance for Democracy

Editor’s Note: Sandra Spargo, a dedicated citizen, clues us in on a proposed bottled water/food manufacturing plant in Anacortes, Washington as well as the struggle to give the people of Anacortes a say in the decision to deny or approve the proposal. The plant would be the largest of its kind in the United States of America, drawing 5 million gallons of water from the Skagit River per day for forty or more years.

City of Anacortes Pushes Bottling Plant

“Just as forests and fish, clean water is a finite resource. Climate change, population pressure and pollution urgently mandate governments at all levels to manage and share the Skagit River in a sustainable fashion that meets the needs of nature and the economy without compromising future generations.” -Sandra Spargo

On Sept. 12, 2010 the people of Anacortes, Wash. opened their Sunday paper to read “Anacortes, water, bottled?” On Sept. 13, the City of Anacortes approved selling to Tethys Enterprises, Inc., five million gallons of municipal water per day from the Skagit River through 2040, with extensions through 2050.

The ill-proposed one million square foot plant would be the largest bottled water/beverage and food manufacturing plant in the United States. Although citizens personally requested a public hearing before the signing of the contract, Mayor Dean Maxwell turned them down.

According to the Skagit Valley Herald of Sept. 12, Mayor Maxwell stated, “It’s a water agreement, and the council will basically say yes or no. This is a business decision for the council.” The newspaper account also reported that the contract had not been discussed at public meetings, and Mayor Maxwell had worked with council members individually behind closed doors on the contract. Tethys CEO Steve Winter said that he had worked with the city for about five months on details.

On Jan. 15, 2012, Mayor Maxwell stated in the Skagit Valley Herald that his priorities include seeing a new bottling plant that’s been proposed by Tethys Enterprises, Inc.

The Water Belongs to the Public

According to an online quote by the Wash. State Dept. of Ecology, “The waters of Washington State collectively belong to the public and cannot be owned by any one individual or group. Instead, individuals or groups may be granted rights to use them. A water right is a legal authorization to use a predefined quantity of public water for a designated purpose. This purpose must qualify as a beneficial use. Beneficial use involves the application of a reasonable quantity of water to a non-wasteful use, such as irrigation, domestic water supply, or power generation, to name a few.”

Is Water a Common Good or a Tradable Commodity?

The commodification of water refers to the process of transforming water from a communal good into a tradable commodity. A tradable commodity can be shipped and sold in another location distant from where it was produced. We object to our drinking water as a tradable commodity, never to return to our Skagit River watershed. To learn more, see Blue Gold: World Water Wars.

At the city council meeting of Sept. 26, 2010, Tethys CEO Winter said that a sustainable, high quality water source is a very important factor for the food and beverage industry. He agreed that Tethys is proposing to supply a substantial portion of the western United States’ requirements. However, he did not define requirements. Logically, Skagit Valley has no farming capacity to supply a substantial portion of the western United States’ food requirements. However, Tethys’ contract for five million gallons of water per day—1 billion 820 million gallons of water per year—can supply a substantial portion of the western United State’s beverage industry, including bottled water and its flavored and enhanced versions.

Video Evidence Challenges Tethys’ Assertion

Tethys CEO Steve Winter asserted to the Anacortes City Council on Sept. 26, 2011, that the proposed plant would not be a water bottling plant. However, previously to the Anacortes contract, Tethys courted the City of Everett for five million gallons of water per day from Spada Lake whose source is the Sultan River. During the courtship, Tethys hired Jason Jenkins to produce a pre-contractual promotional video about Everett’s water supply. The video starred Mayor Ray Stephanson. The Mayor stated that Everett has the capacity to fill the entire bottled water demand for the western U.S., and Everett’s rail and deepwater port give easy and low-cost access to western U. S. and Asian markets. By the way, Anacortes offers rail access and a deepwater port.

Mayor Stephanson turned down Tethys after 15 months of negotiations. Among reasons was Tethys’ refusal to link Everett’s five million gallons of water per day to the collateral of local jobs.

Anacortes Courts Water-Intensive Industry

Anacortes is eager to attract water-intensive industry, since it has the largest and oldest water rights on the Skagit River, second only to tribal rights. Anacortes currently serves 56,000 customers. Major customers include the Shell and Tesoro oil refineries, the City of Oak Harbor, Skagit PUD, La Conner, Naval Air Station Whidbey, the Swinomish Tribal Community, and agricultural users.

Moreover, the Skagit River is a hydroelectric source for the City of Seattle. The Skagit River Hydroelectric Project, owned by Seattle City Light, provides about 25 percent of Seattle’s electrical power. In 2005, Seattle City Light studied the effects of climate change on the Skagit River. In short, “A warming trend could have significant effects on the hydrologic balance of watersheds on which hydropower depends. Model studies indicate that over the next 40 years, projected climate change could require the utility to reconsider its current operating procedures.”

No Long-Term Planning Regarding Climate Change

According to Dr. Nick Bond, climatologist at the University of Washington, “The preponderance of evidence at the present time is that the annual precipitation in the Pacific Northwest is not liable to undergo systematic change, but there will be somewhat drier summers and wetter winters. Moreover, the increase in temperature should mean more runoff (and floods) in winter and a lesser snow pack in spring, with decreased water availability from some watersheds in summer.”

The City of Anacortes projects its water usage in 2029 to be an average of 29 million gallons of water per day (MGD), peaking at 41 MGD. This projection is based on 20-year projections of all current customers. See Anacortes City Council minutes. The Tethys contract is viable through 2040 with two, five-year extensions through 2050.

The words climate change appear nowhere in the proposed Anacortes 2011 Water System Plan.

No Tethys Security

In an email dated Sept. 14, 2010, CEO Winter stated, “We now have one of the most critical pieces in place [water] and can move forward aggressively to secure funding, land, perform feasibility studies, secure clients and build out the project.”

Otherwise, the City of Anacortes asked for no contract security in exchange for Tethys’ entitlement to five million gallons of water per day.

According to the Snohomish County Business Journal of Sept. 15, 2010, the Everett plant had been expected to employ 1,000 or more people.  Tethys orally promised Anacortes’ 500 jobs in a high tech, automated plant in exchange for the following:

  • Plastic Pollution: Our research shows that Tethys will transport 467 tons of plastic inbound per day for plastic labels, shrink wrap and plastic nurdles to manufacture bottles and bottle caps. In addition, 18,000 tons of bottled water (and its flavored and enhanced versions) will leave outbound per day. Please contact us for more information on these details. To learn about the impact of plastic production, see the five-time award-winning documentary TAPPED.
  • Rail Traffic: A public records email from Matt Kelly of Tethys Enterprises states: “Think 400 rail cars a day—four unit trains—may affect access to the Skagit Airport and other businesses on that side of State Route 20.” Four hundred rail cars travel one-way, 800 rail cars roundtrip.
  • Future unknowns of the Anacortes wastewater treatment plant: During a group tour of the plant, we were informed that expansion of the wastewater plant is needed if the Tethys contract succeeds. It is publicly unknown from where this funding will come.

Tethys’ Business Failures

Incorporated in Nov. 2008, Tethys is a capital venture corporation that shows no record of accomplishment.

  • Tethys’ recently failed the contractual one-year provision to acquire land by Sept. 30, 2011. The City of Anacortes extended the provision to Dec. 1, 2012.
  • Tethys failed to renew its Washington State corporate registration that expired on March 1, 2011. After Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin pointed out the failure publicly, Tethys reinstated its corporate registration.

Sandra Spargo

Defending Water in the Skagit River Basin

The Alliance for Democracy


P.S. from the Editor:

Check out this interview with Sandra by Jodie Buller of the Skagit Valley College Radio station.

15 Responses to “Bottle the Skagit River?”

  • Thanks to Sandra and to "" for helping raise awareness in the Skagit River Basin about the importance of valuing water and science as we face the challenges of climate change, a growing population, and opportunistic corporations that place profits ahead of people and the planet.  We need to add a lot more members to our Alliance for Democracy, so hope that this article will move people to go to our website and join us.  
    by: Rebecca Wolfeon: Friday 10th of February 2012
  • I live in Anacortes on 32nd Street. I am opposed to the water bottling plant. It was never put to a vote of the people. There are just too many unknowns. Also, the traffic/trains usage could prove to be a disaster.
    by: Rosemary Stevenson: Saturday 11th of February 2012
  • Please contact the mayor, your legislators, and the governor about this issue. Mayor Dean Maxwell P.O. Box 547 904 6th Street Anacortes, WA 98221 (360) 299-1950 (360) 293-1938 – fax To find your WA state legislator: Governor Gregoire: Office of the Governor PO Box 40002 Olympia, WA 98504-0002 360-902-4111
    by: Felicia Staubon: Monday 13th of February 2012
  • Please write to Mayor Maxwell, your legislators, and Governor Gregoire and sign the petition on this issue created on It is posted on facebook titled "Don't Bottle the Skagit River".
    by: Felicia Staubon: Monday 13th of February 2012
  • What legal avenues do the citizens have to stop this project?
    by: Rudy Gahleron: Wednesday 15th of February 2012
  • I couldn't find a link to the petition against the Anacortes water plant.
    by: Howard Pelletton: Thursday 16th of February 2012
  • I am amazed what those "in charge" do for an almighty buck!  Have they never heard that bottled water is no better than what comes out of our faucets?  We are so lucky to have good water, we can share it, but it is a God given gift (like air) that we cannot bottle and sell to the highest bidder.  Do you know Mayor Dean what you would cause?  We are already being buried in our own generated waste that we toss "away" because we live in a throw away society.  But there IS no "away" and the water that would be bottled will generate millions of "throw away" bottles.  "Less is More" and we as a society should learn to live like most of the world citizens do in developing nations and not flaunt our disrespect for REAL needs in this world.  May heaven forbid that this should ever come to pass!
    by: Ria Stroosmaon: Thursday 16th of February 2012
  • A video people might be interested in: The Story of Bottled Water by Annie Leonard (the woman who made the movie The Story of Stuff)  This article and this video is a classic example of the injustice of the bottled water industry. 
    by: Anna Bakeron: Sunday 26th of February 2012
  • I've heard a rumor recently that our area is currently in a drought. Drought, logically, means decreasing rain; lowering river flow. This proposal, which will see water coming out of a river that potentially will have long periods of low levels, will leave unknown damage to our wildlife and environment. .... And the plastic issue..... don't get me started. I routinely pick up litter where I walk, and the most common trash I pick up are plastic bottles and soda cans. DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN!!!!
    by: Barbara Spargoon: Monday 5th of March 2012
  • Felicia, I went to the site and searched for the petition ... no search results. Will you please post the direct link on this site? Thanks.
    by: Michelle LaCouron: Friday 23rd of March 2012
  • After several coelgalues and I had helped to block three water bottling plants that Nestle9 Waters NA wanted to build in Enumclaw, Orting, and Black Diamond, Washington, an alert reader in Snohomish County sent me a newspaper article in March of 2010. The article reported on the plans of a startup company called Tethys (ironically the name of a Greek goddess of fresh water) to build a 5-million gallons per day water bottling plant in Everett, WA. By a stroke of good fortune and good timing, I was invited to speak about this situation and to talk about how we had defeated Nestle9 in those other three cities. From that meeting of the 1st Legislative District Democrats in Mill Creek, WA, we organized hundreds of people in the Everett area who became engaged in stopping such an environmentally wrong kind of business. The audiences that listened to our stories got it that it is just wrong for a corporation to take a natural resource that belongs to the commons (and that is essential for life) and sell it for profit. If air could be bought and sold, there would probably be a company that would sell that, too. The people of Snohomish County went to work and wrote Letters to Editors, spoke at Everett City Council meetings, and spread the word quickly. On April 14, the Everett Herald front page headline read: City to Tethys: No Deal. Tethys, however, found another city council that was less wise and much more naive in Anacortes. The Economic Development Director, Ryan Larsen, with the Mayor of Anacortes, persuaded the City Council to approve the 5-million-gallons per day operation of the Tethys Corporation. Many have suspected that Tethys is a front group for a much better established corporation like Coca-Cola, Pepsi, or Nestle. Who knows? I surely don't, but I do know that climate change is REAL! The planet is warming and water WILL BE in great demand. Are water bottlers trying to grab water now for future profits that will benefit corporate giants? Whatever the motives of water barons, there are so many environmental reasons NOT to support the bottling of water that it's really a no brainer. Please watch The Story of Stuff and The Story of Bottled Water on You Tube. Films like Tapped and FLOW are helping raise awareness about the harms from acquisitive and extractive interests like water bottlers. Thank goodness that someone got Sandra Spargo interested in this problem. She contacted me and we have enjoyed working together ever since to educate and organize people about this abuse of our most essential resources, H2O. We work with The Alliance for Democracy and the Sierra Club (with allies in Food Water Watch, Corporate Accountability, and others) to defend water for life. These experiences have led many of us to explore ways to do rights-based organizing and work for rights for nature. We hope that you will join us. (
    by: Emaon: Friday 15th of June 2012
  • Pepsi has a empty building in Burlington seems to make more sense then building a bottling plant on a Island.....
    by: mike wooleon: Friday 17th of August 2012
  • Hey all! If you Google "dont bottle the skagit river" its a few links down, but its on the sign on website. Then you can Link it to your facebook for added exposure!! Its a great way to get the word out. Is anyone interested in flying some signs about it down on commercial and 12th? If anyone is interested in getting a group together find me one facebook :)
    by: Mimii Duarteon: Thursday 20th of September 2012
  • Although I'm a native of Bellingham, I have lived in Portland OR for the last 22 years. I was appalled at the very idea of bottling water from the Skagit. Is there no provision for it in its designation as a wild & scenic river? As bad as the simple idea is, the politics surrounding this are far worse. I also feel that if this goes through it may serve as a precedent, a Trojan horse, for similar enterprises all up and down the west coast -- or all of the USA, for that matter. In the coming battle for global water resources, let's strive to reasonably accommodate all interests, but not at the expense of any other.
    by: Nancy Charltonon: Thursday 4th of October 2012
  • Though we are in the industry of bottle labeling, it is always sad to see a plant ruin our natural resources.
    by: TRIPACKon: Tuesday 18th of December 2012

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